Jacob Charles Wilson

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✓✓ Read Receipts: Sea, marsh, edgelands

A photograph of a large concrete sound reflector on the southern coast.
Joe Pettet-Smith

Earlier this week I was talking with my uncle about travelling beyond cities. He lives in London and used to work as a travel writer but made the move further into the suburbs after starting a family. Now the furthest travelling he makes is to the seaside. I was telling him a number of people my age are considering escaping London for the coast—Hastings, Margate, Southend, Whitstable, Falmouth. I don't blame them, I probably would if I could. Perhaps the sense of escape is because the boundless sea is the closest we have in Britain to the horizon of the desert. But, just like entering the desert, moving to the seaside would never truly offer an escape. It would only do so if the rural and coastal areas lacked culture and politics, which the past few years have shown they evidently do not. What different ways can we understand the relation of the coast to the interior?

  • No part of England looks so un-English as the fens of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. Dead flat, often below sea level, drained by unerringly straight canals that rise above the black earth, they present epic landscapes, skyscrapers and waterscapes which are closer to the sublime than the picturesque. What does this environment do to the people who live and work there in what seems like a rectilinear factory without a roof? Double Dutch by Jonathan Meades. This is my favourite of all Meades' programmes, it presents perfectly the vivisection of surreal landscapes that he carries out across all his films.
  • Imagine him here—the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina—and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages,—precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It's not an accident that Conrad opens the story on a boat moored at Gravesend, then a rural backwater without many of the amenities of modern life. While the focus of the story is on Marlow's journey down the Congo it's the moments where the narrative returns to the Thames that intrigue me most.
  • Radical ESSEX is a project re-examining the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. A programme of events will take place across Essex throughout 2016 and 2017, shedding light on the vibrant, pioneering thinking of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The Radical ESSEX project has genuinely changed my mind, it showed me my own prejudices and taught me to reconsider the county defined entirely in recent years by fake-tans fake-rolexes and fake-licence plates.
  • If the tone of Radical ESSEX is at times defensive, it's because it has reason to be. The book is upfront about popular perceptions of Essex, from its reputation as a county characterised by its purported brashness, to the right-wing, Tory-voting 'Basildon Man' invented by the newspaper industry in the 1980s as a supposed archetype of a shift in working-class political allegiances. Beyond the Basildon Man by Natalie Bradbury for The Manchester Review of Books. I owe part of my reevaluation of the county to Natalie Bradbury, who has told me about a number of the places worth visiting on the South East coast. I was reading this review on my train to Southend-on-Sea for the launch of the same publication. I'll soon be writing on it myself.
  • Edgelands, marshes and mudflats rub shoulders with amusement arcades, power stations and wartime relics. To some, this is the land of 'Estuary English' accents and lazy stereotypes but it has always been a source of inspiration to artists and writers. Essex Chronicles by Mark Massey on Creative Boom. Artists and writers have found inspiration in Essex, but they've also used its flat landscape as a canvas or notepad for their own work. Here you can see a style of social documentary photography used across the isolated, impoverished and industrial parts of the American West applied to the South East of England—what does it mean to associate these two places?
  • the structures provide physical evidence of what some experts say was the world's first properly organised early warning air defence system. This is the first time there was an arranged structure that could feed information back into a central system, which could then take decisions about how to respond… Joe Pettet-Smith's photographs of the UK's early warning air defence system by David Bond for the Financial Times. For most of history the relationship of the coast to the interior has been one of threat, while today it's almost impossible to consider beaches as places of mass death. The form and construction of these objects isn't unusual—they resemble sea walls or upturned Martello towers—but they are seen as unusual because they represent a way of thinking about the coast that is entirely alien to us.
  • I had to fit it around my life, so going abroad was not an option, and I wanted to see the country. Niall predominantly uses train travel, studying maps and possible destinations late at night. Occasionally he turns up at a local railway station and picks a town simply because it's cheap to get to Photographer Niall McDiarmid travels from town to town to capture the essence of Britain on It's Nice That. While not strictly on the sea, McDiarmid's work does often take him to coastal towns. I've followed his photography for several years now, it strikes me as an August Sander-style project of enormous historical value.